Narrative for NABS Bluebird PowerPoint Presentation
1. Title Slide: Welcome Back the Bluebirds! The North American Bluebird
Society (NABS) since 1978 has been instrumental in helping people all across
America and Canada increase the population of bluebirds. The two bluebirds in
this picture are sister and brother that were saved and raised by the founder of
NABS, Dr. Larry Zeleny.
2. Eastern Bluebird Range. North America comprises the countries of Canada,
America, Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Belize, El
Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rico and Panama. There are three species
of bluebirds found in North America. This map shows where the Eastern
Bluebird can be found.
3. Mountain Bluebird Range. This map shows where the Mountain Bluebird may
4. Western Bluebird Range. This map shows where the Western Bluebird may be
found. Sometimes, the three species’ ranges may overlap and sometimes,
different species may mate and produce sub-species that contain traits of either or
both species. This confuses some people who study bluebirds.
5. Blue Jays. Some people confuse the Blue Jay with bluebirds but the Blue Jay is
much bigger, noisier and aggressive.
6. Indigo Buntings. People also confuse the Indigo Bunting with bluebirds but they
are a much darker blue color than bluebirds.
7. Male Eastern Bluebird. Bluebirds are members of the Thrush family which
includes robins. The male bluebird has dark blue on his head, back wings and
tail. He is reddish-brown from the chin, down over his breast and farther back
along his flanks. The lower half of his belly is white.
8. Female Eastern Bluebird. The female has less bright plumage which helps her
hide from predators when she is vulnerable during the nesting season. She is light
grey tinged with blue on her head and dull brown on her back. She has blue on
her tail and wings, and the blue on her wings and tail can be seen when she is
flying but not always noticeable when perched. A light reddish brown color
extends from the chin over the breast and back along the flanks. The belly and
under-tail are white.
9. Male Western Bluebird (close-up of throat). Western Bluebirds have bluish
throats and reddish tones on their breasts and shoulders. Their bellies and under-
tails are gray, which wear down during the year to a blue-gray.
10. Male Mountain Bluebird. The male Mountain Bluebird lacks the reddish breast
of its Eastern and Western cousins, presenting an almost pure blue appearance
with a white belly.
11. Female Mountain Bluebird. Like the other bluebird species, the female
Mountain Bluebird is less colorful, showing blue only on her wings and tail.
12. Purple Martin in gourd. The original people of the Americas no doubt held
special regard for bluebirds, as these “harbingers of spring” probably found
homes in the gourds that were set out to attract another native cavity-nester, the
13. Common Flicker. The flicker is also a secondary cavity-nester like martins and
bluebirds. It prefers tree holes on the forest edge chiseled-out by woodpeckers
either previously searching for food or nesting in them.
14. Bluebird in Natural Cavity. This bluebird is peering out of a natural cavity.
Bluebird populations increased as Europeans migrated to America and began
clearing forests and turning them into pastures where bluebirds could find much
more food: ground insects.
15. Fence Post Hole. When farmers used wooden fence posts, sometimes the
location of branches made for a weaker part of the post that decayed faster
allowing for bluebirds to use them for nesting sites.
16. Human Development. As more and more people need more and more places to
live, natural places for birds to nest become scarce. It is becoming increasingly
difficult for humans and wildlife to co-exist.
17. Clearing Forests. Dead or dying trees are considered unsightly by humans and
are often used as firewood.
18. Bluebird at Natural Cavity. Unfortunately, these trees are the preferred sites for
birds like bluebirds to nest. Besides providing nesting places, they contain many
insects that birds must eat to survive.
19. Bluebird with Insect. All bluebirds eat large quantities of insects during warmer
months, but in the winter…
20. Winter Berries. …wild berries may be the birds’ only link to survival.
Bluebirds are not seed-eaters, so they may perish if berries become coated with
ice for even a couple of days. Mealworms can be set out for bluebirds to help
supplement their diet and help them survive times of stress such as severe
21. Sumac Berries. In areas where they over-winter, bluebirds can be attracted to
backyard feeders by offering pre-soaked raisins, sumac, dogwood and other
berries. They will also come to feed on several kinds of berry-producing trees
and shrubs as shown here.
22. Pesticides. Chemicals intended to kill weeds or insects may destroy the
bluebird’s food supplies. Some pesticides may negatively affect reproduction and
may be harmful to many species besides birds.
23. House Sparrows. In addition to habitat loss, cavity-nesting birds were dealt
another devastating blow with the introduction into North America of two bird
species from Europe in the 1800’s. The House Sparrow, also called English
Sparrows can be deadly to bluebirds.
24. European Starlings. Even more aggressive and competitive are starlings. Soon
after they were introduced, their population exploded across the continent.
25. T. E. Musselman. Mr. Musselman is considered the “Father of Bluebird
Conservation” and was the first to establish “nestbox trails” in Illinois in 1934.
26. A Nestbox Trail. A nestbox trail is five or more nestboxes along a prescribed
route that can be easily monitored on a regular basis, preferably, at least once a
week during the bluebird breeding season.
27. Nestboxes – All Shapes and Sizes. Every bluebirder has a favorite design, size
or shape but there are specifications that should not vary. NABS has a “Nestbox
Approval Program” to encourage manufacturers to produce safe and manageable
28. Nestbox Drainage. Notice the trimmed corners of the floor which allow water to
29. Nestbox Ventilation. This Peterson nestbox has three ventilation holes on each
side to keep air flowing through the interior of the box on hot days making the
birds more comfortable and preventing deaths due to heat stroke.
30. Nestbox Close-up. Eastern and Western Bluebirds need a simple box with 4x4”
or 5x5” floors and a 1-1/2” diameter entrance hole. Where the range of the
Eastern and Mountain Bluebirds overlap, a larger 1-9/16” hole is recommended.
31. Mountain Bluebird. These bluebirds need a larger box and entrance hole but be
careful not to make the hole as large as 1-58” which will allow the deadly starling
to enter. Western Bluebirds use the smaller Eastern Bluebird sizes.
32. Habitat. Choosing appropriate habitat is just as important as providing a proper
nestbox and must be considered when planning a bluebird trail. Since bluebirds
feed primarily on ground-dwelling insects, they need open lawns and other areas
with shorter grass.
33. Church Yard. Any place that is open will work such as cemeteries, golf courses
34. House Sparrow on Box. Nestboxes close to barns, stables or feedlots will suffer
from stiff competition from sparrows. These areas are not good habitat for
bluebirds that cannot compete with them.
35. Setting Out Box in Snow. Nestboxes should be in place by late winter or early
spring where there are scattered trees and perches such as a fence line. In the
south, afternoon shade is an important placement consideration.
36. Monitoring Nestboxes. Nestboxes should be checked weekly to protect the birds
from competitors, predators and other forms of interference.
37. Powder Blue Eggs. A completed nest indicates successful courtship. The female
works for a few days building her nest and one bluebird egg is added each day for
three to seven days until there is a complete clutch Younger birds may have four
eggs while older birds may have five or six eggs.
38. White Eggs. About 5% of bluebirds have eggs that are white. Be sure not to
confuse these with sparrow eggs! They hatch and produce blue bluebirds just like
their colored counterparts.
39. Incubation. The female starts to incubate her eggs after the last egg is laid and
continues to do so for about two weeks.
40. Hatching. All the eggs in a clutch will hatch within 24 hours of each other.
Newly hatched, they are blind and helpless.
41. Brooding. For several days after hatching, the young must be kept warm by the
mother brooding or covering them the same way that she incubated the eggs. She
may need to brood longer if temperatures are colder.
42. Feeding. Both parents work from dawn to dusk feeding their young. After about
a week, the young begin to grow feathers and open their eyes.
43. Nestbox Monitoring. Records of the productivity of each nestbox should be
kept. Data collected over years helps managers understand where bluebirds nest
on trails and which boxes are better. Data can also be used by researchers such as
Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology through their nestbox data program.
44. Banding. Between the ages of 8-12 days, trained and licensed bird banders may
use special bands to give each young its unique aluminum ID number. If a
banded bird is located by someone who does not band birds, the band number
should be submitted to the Canadian or U.S. Wildlife Service.
45. Feeding Continues. Both parents continue to provide food for the rapidly
growing nestlings. Parents cling to the opening with their toes and use their tail
for support. Perches should not be used on nestboxes.
46. Larger Young. Each nestling may be fed as much as five times per hour. At 12
days of age, they are well developed.
47. Fecal Sacs. The flash of white that may be seen leaving the nestbox with a parent
is a fecal sac containing the nestlings’ waste. This keeps the nestbox clean and
limits the smell that attracts predators.
48. Nestlings. By the 12th-15th day, the nestlings can become restless. This is the
time that monitors should be very careful about opening boxes and causing the
young to jump out of the box or prematurely fledge. Natural fledging takes place
between the 16th and 20th day.
49. Fledging. On their first outing, the fledges wear a spotted chest, the mark of the
Thrush family. They keep these spots until their feathers are replaced during their
first molt, which occurs in the fall. Once the young fledge, they do not return to
the nestbox. Rather, they remain high in trees and are continued to be fed by
parents as they gradually are taught to feed for themselves and defend themselves
from various predators by learning to escape and hide. After a week or two of
this training, the female begins to prepare for another nesting cycle. Nestboxes
should have old nests removed because she will always build a new nest.
50. Nestlings. In the northern range, bluebirds may raise only one brood. In the
warmer, southern range, they may raise two or three.
51. Roosting. Bluebirds over-winter in the eastern, southern and western ranges.
During winter, a dozen or more often share sleeping or “roosting” quarters to
conserve body heat. It helps to cover ventilation holes for boxes in northern areas
where birds roost. One drain hole should be left open and the box should be
reopened for spring.
52. Mice. Bluebirds are not the only creatures attracted to nestboxes. In some areas,
squatters include deer mice and white-footed mice. Their urine causes the wood
to rot and nails to rust. The presence of mice can be a health hazard to humans
so; removal of mice and their waste should be done with care.
53. Red Squirrel. The acrobatic red squirrel can climb up un-guarded nestboxes or
drop to it from over-hanging tree limbs to eat eggs or young.
54. Raccoons. Where raccoons are found (practically everywhere), the mounting of
nestboxes on fence posts is a virtual stepladder for them to feed on bluebirds.
55. Cats. Both house and wild, feral cats are big predators of bluebirds. Cats should
be kept indoors
56. Pole Mount. To reduce predation, a free-standing pole mount is necessary in
most areas. Attached to these boxes is the Kingston Stove-Pipe guard, the most
effective way to keep snakes and other predators from eating bluebirds and their
young or eggs.
57. Grease. Some people apply grease to the pole to deter some predators and to
keep fire ants (found in the southern range) out of the nestboxes.
58. Zeleny Cone. Another effective guard is the metal cone. It is almost as effective
as the Kingston Stove-pipe guard except that the largest snakes (over four feet)
may defeat it.
59. Noel Guard. This entrance extended prevents many predators, especially, avian
ones from reaching into the nestbox for meals.
60. Snake Guard. The Kingston Stove-pipe guard like any guard should be mounted
as high as possible near the base of the nestbox.
61. Wasps. Another competitor for nestboxes is the paper wasps. Once they are
allowed to build their paper nests, bluebirds cannot defeat them. Some people use
wax or bar soap rubbed on the ceiling to discourage wasp nests-building. If boxes
are monitored weekly, removal of nests built by one or two wasps that are not yet
aggressive will allow bluebirds time to take over the box where the birds can
effectively prevent wasps from coming back.
62. Tree Swallows. There are other native, desirable birds that compete with
bluebirds for nestboxes. Tree Swallows are the most common cavity-nesting bird
in the northern range of the bluebird.
63. Violet-Green Swallow. In the western range, this species of swallow will use
64. Nestbox Pairing. Nestboxes placed between 5 and 25 feet of each other allows
many species to co-exist. In areas of high swallow density, placing boxes back-
to-back may be effective.
65. Swallow Eggs. Tree Swallows build grass nests similar to bluebirds except that
they are lined with feathers.
66. Chickadee Nests. Chickadee nests are made of green moss and the nest cup is
lined with very fine animal hair or fur. The eggs are half the size of bluebird eggs
and speckled brown.
67. Tufted Titmouse. A cousin of the chickadee, that also lives in mature woodlots
in the southern range, this bird also nests in boxes and add a layer of leaves to
their nests. These birds do not have black caps like the chickadee but have head
tufts or pointed crowns (like Cardinals).
68. Brushy Areas. Where nestboxes are placed can determine which species will use
it. Chickadees, wrens and titmouses will favor placement in thick vegetation
69. House Wrens. One of the most aggressive competitors of bluebirds is the
notorious House Wren found in the northern range. They will sometimes
puncture bluebird eggs or physically remove young from nestboxes in order to rid
them from their territory. Wrens are just as protected as bluebirds so; the best
way to discourage them is to keep boxes out in the open.
70. White-breasted Nuthatch. Other birds use nestboxes in certain regions such as
71. Great-crested Flycatcher. If the entrance hole is large enough (1-9/16ths”) this
flycatcher will nest.
72. Public Enemy #1. By far, the most challenging competitor for bluebird nesting
sites is the non-native, unprotected House Sparrow. They will take over trails that
are unmonitored and unprotected. Since these pests prefer “hand-outs” for food
such as agriculture areas and fast-food restaurants, they may not be found in
73. House Sparrow Nest. The nest of the House Sparrow is weaved of course grass.
They are technically members of the weaver finch family of birds. Sparrows
completely fill the nestbox cavity producing a tunnel entrance to the nest cup.
Their strong seed-cracking beak is sued to puncture bluebird eggs and kill
bluebird young and parents alike. Sometimes, as in this case, the remains of
bluebirds are weaved into their bulky nests.
74. Removing Sparrow Nests. Simply removing sparrow nests may not be enough
to discourage them from nesting. It may sometimes serve to provoke the
sparrows to attack nearby bluebirds. Trapping and disposing of sparrows is often
a “necessary evil” practice in bluebird management.
75. Larry Zeleny. Dr. Lawrence Zeleny founded NABS in 1978. Today, there are
over 40 regional or state and provincial organizations that are NABS affiliates.
76. Nestbox Building Programs. One of the most effective ways to teach children
about nestboxes for birds is to let them build their own box, mount it and manage
77. Adults, too! Adults can learn just as well as children. ☺
78. Bluebird Trails. Trails can serve as wonderful training tools for various groups.
79. Kiosks. Where trails are located in public areas (like parks opr golf courses), a
very effective educational tool is a kiosk which contains information and pictures
about bluebirds and the surrounding trail of nestboxes.
80. Store-bought Nestboxes. If you don’t want to build your own, you can buy
nestboxes from a variety of stores but be sure that they meet the minimum
requirements for bluebirds. Unfortunately, many boxes available at stores are
NOT suitable for wildlife.
81. The Mad Bluebird. If you provide suitable nesting opportunities for bluebirds,
they will not be mad at you!
82. For More Information, contact NABS at their website,
www.nabluebirdsociety.org. Good luck with your bluebird nestbox or trail!